Inviting an outspoken confident atheist to our small group, which has a mix of: shy people, members with (self-confessed) wobbly faith and opinionated conservative Christian’s, could have been a disaster.
Don’t put a cat among the pigeons right?
I was a bit worried. Would our atheist friend’s arguments be so compelling and articulate that the doubters would doubt more? Would she feel attacked sitting in a room filled with people who obviously believe the opposite to her? Would I get carried away and end up praying for her salvation demanding the Holy Spirit into the room only to be embarrassed when she didn’t convert on the spot?
Turns out, it was one of the best small group sessions we ever had.
It made me realise that it is so important to discuss your faith with someone who doesn’t think the same as you. Sure, there’s always a difference of opinion within a small group. We often clash over the little things: worship styles, whether speaking in tongues is weird or not, the way a preacher talks, the fact the welcome team moved the coffee to a different location on Sunday morning (shock). But, we don’t often bring up the big things and have a healthy, honest, discussion that allows for disagreement.
Disagreement does not mean arguing. You want people to feel affirmed and listened to in a discussion. Here are some things that I think you should aim for when disagreeing in your small group:
ENCOURAGEMENT – those who disagree, or don’t yet understand something should leave the discussion feeling encouraged that they were listened to. Encouraged that they might not understand something yet, but they are in a group who will listen to them and help them learn until they do get it.
HUMBLENESS – be prepared to admit you are wrong. If you head into a discussion already deciding that you are right, and no one else has anything to add, it is no longer a discussion. It’s just an opinionated monologue, which might leave you feeling good, but you won’t learn anything new and others won’t want to contribute either.
RESPECT – If you aren’t prepared to listen to someone else’s opinion, then why should you get to share yours?
Our atheist visitor challenged us, she reaffirmed my faith as I had to think about what and why I believed, she raised new questions for others and humbled us all with her willingness to listen and explore new ideas. I honestly think we are doing ourselves a discredit if we fill our small groups with too many likeminded people. After all the Bible says that it’s all the different people that make up the body of Christ.
What use is a room full of people who are all the same? It’s like having a room full of just hands without the rest of the body. Sure, you could get a lot of clapping, waving and high-fiving done… but you won’t get very far without a heart that cares; legs to get you moving and lungs to keep you breathing.
About Emily Owen
Emily dreams of travelling the world and writing about the great things she sees God doing along the way. Whilst waiting for dreams to come true, she happily works for CWR, plays a lot of netball and is trying to learn Spanish.